Navigating the Complexities: Students Create a “Friendly” Guide to California’s Ballot Propositions

In every election, California citizens are challenged with understanding and voting on the array of state ballot measures put before them. There are a dozen propositions included in the upcoming election, and Mount Madonna School (MMS) eleventh grade students recently spent time researching the measures and created a “Friendly Guide to California’s Ballot Propositions” to share their learning.

Their assignment was simple: to make sense of the ballot measure assigned; to describe what the measure is all about in user-friendly language; to share who is in favor of the measure and who opposes it; and to present their new-found knowledge to their classmates.

“After focusing on developing the skills necessary to thoughtfully take in media, and recognizing the various propaganda and persuasion techniques employed by all sides, each student was tasked with becoming the resident ‘expert’ on one of the 12 propositions on the ballot,” explained social studies teacher Dan Gurska. The assignment was part of Gurska’s U.S. Government curriculum.

“Every election, my partner and I do our homework on all of the propositions,” said Gurska. “As you well know, it is hard making sense of them sometimes! I decided to create a unit for my students that mirrored the work that we do at home in order to be informed voters.”

“I focused on Proposition 21, about expanding rent control in California,” shared junior Kayla Goldstein. “I didn’t understand what the proposition meant when I started researching, and it’s still hard to form an opinion, because it doesn’t apply to me as a minor. I do know that when I am of voting age, I will most certainly do research on all of the propositions up for vote.”

Classmate Grace Timan researched Proposition 20, which would restrict parole for certain offenses currently considered to be non-violent; and authorize felony sentences for certain offenses currently treated only as misdemeanors.

“For my research, I used the voter guide, considered current correctional programs, and looked into outside opinions from sources such as the Los Angeles Times and California proposition guides,” shared Timan. “The hardest part of this project was keeping my own opinion out of my writing. From the beginning I was very anti-Prop 20, and writing about it in an unbiased way was challenging.”

Class parents voiced support for having their student participate in such a relevant and meaningful project.

“It was great to be able to sit down with my son and talk about the propositions as I was filling out my ballot!” commented parent Robyn Pearson.

“Alyssa told us all about it,” shared parent Linda Manzur. “It was the first time she was actually excited about politics. I think it forced her to put herself in the shoes of all stakeholders and feel the high level of responsibility – and discomfort – of voters who are collectively making life-altering decisions for others.

Gurska said he initiated the project in the hope that students would better understand how to navigate the complexities surrounding ballot measures.

“Unsurprisingly, the students rose to the occasion and provided me with way more context and information than I would have been able to cultivate doing my homework alone,” commented Gurska. “Now, with the Google Slides presentation of their work, created and edited by students Alyssa Manzur and Amirah Alexander, more people will have the opportunity to learn from their research!”

“I focused on California Proposition 23, which would establish state requirements for kidney dialysis clinics,” shared student Alyssa Manzur. “For my research, I used an online pdf version of the California ballot proposition pamphlet that is mailed to California residents and two websites, Yes on Prop 23 and No on Prop 23.

“While I didn’t come across any major challenges when researching, it was slightly difficult to decipher whether or not my sources were biased,” Manzur continued. “I wanted to get the most accurate, non-biased information when putting my presentation together. My own opinion on Prop 23 definitely changed after researching it. It is important to be educated on ballot propositions in order to be fully prepared to vote.”

A Friendly Guide to California’s Ballot Propositions (view or download the pdf)

Click here for a refresher on what ballot propositions, initiatives and referendums are


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.